Edited by Douglas Fisher
Chapter 7: A constitutional human right to a healthy environment
As the field of environmental law developed in the second half of the twentieth century, a growing number of legal systems began to weave together environmental law and elements of human rights law. Today, the majority of the world’s countries include in their constitutions some treatment of either a right to a safe and healthy environment or some form of state responsibility for environmental protection. This chapter provides a survey of the issues associated with a constitutional right for humans to enjoy a healthy environment. It addresses foundational questions, such as the definition of a healthy environment, and the significance of constitutionalising environmental values. Implementing an effective constitutional human right to a healthy environment – one that leads to better substantive environmental outcomes as well as improved social, cultural and economic sustainability – involves several challenges, particularly in terms of how legal institutions carry out and enforce such a right. The chapter analyses several examples, including the application of constitutional provisions in Brazil, the Philippines, South Africa and the State Constitution of Pennsylvania in the United States. Given the fundamental interdependence of humans and the rest of the Earth around them, especially the human need to breathe air, drink water and eat food – all of which are supported by environmental processes – there will need to be greater creativity, greater commitment and greater effort to safeguard the right to a healthy environment and to ensure a sustainable future.
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